March 2009

Palestinians across the Middle East were due to commemorate Land Day today, marking the anniversary of clashes in 1976 in which six unarmed Palestinians were shot dead by the Israeli army as it tried to break up a general strike. Although Land Day is one of the most important anniversaries in the Palestinian calendar, sometimes referred to as the Palestinians’ national day, the historical event it marks is little spoken of and rarely studied.

A legal battle being waged by Palestinian families to stop the takeover of their neighbourhood in East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers has received a major fillip from the recent souring of relations between Israel and Turkey. After the Israeli army’s assault on the Gaza Strip in January, lawyers for the families were given access to Ottoman land registry archives in Ankara for the first time, providing what they say is proof that title deeds produced by the settlers are forged.

Little Ashimah Abu Sbieh’s life hangs by a thread – or more specifically, an electricity cable that runs from a noisy diesel-powered generator in the family’s backyard. Should the generator’s engine fail, she could die within minutes. Ashimah suffers from a rare genetic condition that means her brain fails to tell her lungs to work. Without the assistance of an electric inhalator, she would simply stop breathing.

Visitors to Canada Park, a few kilometres north-west of Jerusalem, enjoy its spectacular panaromas, woodland paths, mountain-bike trails, caves and idyllic picnic areas. A series of signs describe the historical significance of the landscape, as well as that of a handful of ancient buildings, in terms of their Biblical, Roman, Hellenic and Ottoman pasts. Few, if any, visitors take notice of the stone blocks that litter sections of the park. But Eitan Bronstein, director of Zochrot, is committed to educating Israelis and foreign visitors about the park’s hidden past – its Palestinian history.

Peace Now’s revelation this week that Israel plans to build more than 70,000 homes in the West Bank is the latest in a string of troubling disclosures about settlement expansion. The plans were released with a transparent goal in mind: embarrassing the Israeli leadership as Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, arrived on her first visit to the region since her appointment.